Donald Trump’s Unprecedented Leadership in Unparalleled Times

I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes. 

One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership. 

Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,”  we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three part series from Steven Harper).

Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines.  Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis. 

No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.

We’re No Kennedys But That’s Ok

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The Kennedys famously discussed world politics at the dinner table in preparation and hope of their children’s political future. Our family dinner conversations usually revolve around school, family business, scheduling and a conversation about best and worst parts of the day. However, our family has found an opportunity to have deep discussions about world events, politics, science, and culture. Instead of the dinner table, our conversations happened before dinner, sitting in the minivan on road trips.

 

On our long-haul trips we would drive anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day. We read books, sing, play games and listen to music, but at 4 o’clockI would always like to listen to the news–NPR’s “All Things Considered” (we also listen at home while we make dinner).

 

As we listened to certain stories, the kids would ask questions like: “Why are we going to war in Iraq?” “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” “What is climate change and how do we fix it?” and dozens of other

questions about the world and it people. Instead of telling them they would understand when they were older, we would always try to explain and answer their questions—causing deep discussions on complicated issues.

 

Jennifer’s first rule of parenting is “kids aren’t dumb”. She thinks kids have the ability to understand complex issues. During drives and dinner prep we had more time to talk—more space to really engage. Over the years we our many conversations about politics, history, art, literature, science, and world events led to greater discussions and in depth knowledge of places and people we encountered at national parks, museums, and in books.

 

As our kids grew older they began to form their own opinions about the world—in the formation of these opinions we thought it was important to challenge their ideas and cause them to try to see the other person’s point of view/ perspective. The last thing we want is for our children to just parrot our opinions. One of the most important things we want is for them to be able to understand both sides of complicated issues. Now our adult children listen to NPR for themselves. They have become nerds just like their parents—but not Kennedys . . . yet.

Let’s Talk About Democracy.

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After the 2016 election, I found I needed a platform to articulate my thoughts. I knew I wanted a place for brief, insightful, thoughtful analysis and opinion on current events, social issues, politics and life. The last year has caused me deep reflection on my core political beliefs and ideals. If you where to ask me; “What do you think democracy is’? This would be my response.

To me, democracy is more than a political system that gives voice to the people, it’s a deeply held belief that man is good and can aspire to be even better. We are, of course, inclined to want a strong figure to save us, requiring little or less effort on our part. However, we must resist the allure of the authoritarian, regardless of how efficient the trains run. We must be willing to engage in the messy business of understanding one another, trusting one another and working together in both conflict and harmony to bring about the most good. No one is coming to save us from ourselves. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

To me, democracy is more than freedom. Freedom alone is not enough, freedom not coupled with temperance and a deep desire for self-mastery leads to hedonism and tyranny. Freedom is not the end, it’s a means to an end. The end is moral excellence.

This yearning for moral excellence is often in conflict with our base natures–which are often exploited by those who wish to obtain and wield power, often leaving the masses the victim to those who govern them. Authoritarians exploit our fears and insecurities by preaching a dialectic that we are only safe from “them” as we focus on preserving “us.” However, the more we exclude others the more we isolate ourselves. We believe we are trading safety for freedom, and in the end, we get neither.

Authoritarianism is the consequence of tribalism–the antithesis of democracy. Tribalism insists on conformity and isolation. Democracy grows through trust and inclusion. Tribalism exploits conflict as us vs. them. Democracy understands there is only us and that conflict is a means to an end. Democracy embraces conflict. Tribalism only celebrates victory. Tribalism demands orthodoxy democracy questions authority. Tribalism attacks, democracy compromises. Tribalism embraces the authoritarian, Democracy shuns them.

Democracy demands participation, voting is not the end of our duty it’s the ticket to admission. We have not only a right but a responsibility to participate. That, to me, means more than snarky memes, re-shares of over simplified partisan tripe and complex ideas presented in 280 characters or less. It means paying the price to be informed, building relationships, networks and comminutes that embrace and respect the majority rules and protects the minority rights. A humility that acknowledges we all rise or fall together.

I still believe our best days are ahead of us. I am confidant a careful reflection of our core values will help us see we are more united than divided. It will also motivate us to do more, be more and expect more from ourselves and our fellow travelers on the road to “our more perfect union.”

Thanks eclipse 2017 we needed you! 

Wonderful to see my friends and associates coast to coast taking time to look to the heavens, if only for a few moments, forgetting their earthy troubles. Our lives were eclipsed by a celestial show powerful enough to help us take a break from our terrestrial worries. I completely missed any part of viewing the eclipse. I was in an office with my eyes dilated. Yet I was able to spend the day on social media watching the nation watch the sun and moon. One friend who lived In the direct path described it like a bonus Christmas with friends and family coming together to celebrate the solar star party. Other fiends wrote poetry, shared photos of family and friends (all those pictures of the glasses!). The best part of the day for our family was that our daughter got engaged! It was magical to see so many happy posts. I can’t imagine a time when we needed it more. The Washington post had a great piece about that yesterday.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s essential we spend time focusing on the troubles around us. I don’t think we should talk less about current events, world news, or the the politics of the day. I just think we should talk differently about them. We should try to find common ground with each other, rather than always assuming we have the higher ground. Yesterday was magical because we all looked up, looked up to something that transcends our daily chaos. We all live together here on this pale blue dot. Maybe yesterday’s celestial show can remind us how to live together.